When I bounced on down to Bloomington last night to check out L.A. rockers Cold War Kids and their Chicagoan openers Young Man, I was quite excited; I've read some great reviews of their live shows (including some on our site) and I tend to favor anyone that Pitchfork has famously eviscerated (writer Marc Hogan called their blog-buzzy debut Robbers and Cowards "derivative and superficial"). Like most indie rock fans, I spent the summer of 2006 with their ubiquitous "Hang Me Out to Dry" pretty permanently stuck in my head (particularly while doing laundry).
So, parenthetical asides aside, I was ready to really enjoy this show. And I have to admit, I left disappointed. The Bluebird in Bloomington, famous for its variety of shows and tall, dangerously strong Dirty Bird, was absolutely packed. I was reminded almost immediately why I prefer to wear very tall shoes to shows as I craned my head over the shoulders of my much-taller fellow audience members. When the Cold War Kids came on stage (looking not very kid-like anymore), the crowd understandably went wild. But when they actually started playing, I was disappointed in the lack of energy they projected. Understandably, touring is very tiring. But the Cold War Kids are only three weeks into a five-week tour and I felt like they were performing like musicians run much more ragged.
Perhaps part of the reason I was disappointed was inevitable. Lead singer Nathan Willet's voice is a huge part of the appeal of the Cold War Kids (and was also famously derided by Pitchfork, who likened it to drunk Jeff Buckley wedding karaoke), and in recordings produces a yelpy tension that makes for really addicting hooks. However, when trapped between four 6-foot-tall-plus bros all singing "I kissed the kids at noon/then stumbled out the room" (from their explosively popular EP We Used to Vacation), that famous tense vibrato lost most of its power.
But, let's talk about the openers!
Young Man, out of Chicago, opened in a directly opposite way from the show's headliners. The five-piece group climbed onstage unceremoniously, thanked the crowd (already a small sea) and launched into a several-minute soaring guitar-heavy opus. They didn't play off of the crowd much, but to those who were listening, Young Man presented a pretty impressive and varied soundscape. In contrast to their also childishly named touring cohorts, they looked very young, and indeed, the solo-project-turned-full-band has only been together since 2009. However, their lush, intriguing instrumentation seemed mature beyond their years; their performance was, at times, reminiscent of The Walkmen's stirring, echoing vocals and Explosions in the Sky's dramatic, powerful intrumentation.
Their songs were quite long (in fact, a three-song set lasted over 25 minutes, which the band prefaced with "they just kind of flow into one another," but it all worked well together. Their performance had a markedly different vibe from the Cold War Kids; Young Man presented a natural, clean performance that invited a measured appraisal. Cold War Kids played a dirty, hook-driven set that kept the crowd bouncing but not really thinking. Over the course of the opening set, the members of Young Man seemed to loosen up drastically (inviting images of Han Solo shaking off the freeze of the carbonite in my nerdy brain), becoming more comfortable onstage. All in all, I'm excited to see what's up next for Young Man.